Bastian, you have been doing street photography in Switzerland for a while. Can you tell me what it is like? What has your experience been?
It has been great so far. Honestly. But I haven’t been doing it for long and I wouldn’t call myself experienced or even very good at it.
But the negative experiences were very little and mostly in my head. The usual insecurities depending on where you are and how you perceive the mood in the moment. But that is quickly forgotten in most cases.
And when I come home after shooting streets and find a photo or two that I like, it is a great feeling. Probably because it is rare compared to amount of photos I take.
But 2020 was weird and it wasn’t a good experience overall. In the summer it was good, but the more cold it got and Corona hit harder, the more I found people to be angry, aggressive and really not in a good mood. Of course understandable, but that was not the right moment for me to shoot. It has been very unpredictable, and not in a good way.
What do you think is the most difficult thing about street photography? Have you had any challenging or bad experiences?
This sounds like a hard question. But it really is not. It is easy to answer. Like with most things in life people themselves are the problem. So, I think the most difficult thing about my street photography is me. I don’t know how many times I had an idea, and not implemented it, because I wasn’t comfortable in the situation. Maybe the reason for me being uncomfortable was people starring or my feeling that people might think I was doing something suspicious or wrong. But I should have carried out my plan. I know this sounds silly but I really believe we are our worst enemy.
But the great thing about it is, we still always have a chance to try again and go for it.
Why do you think street photography in Switzerland is not viewed or established as an art form?
I think part of it is our mentality. We are private people. And not realizing that street photography can be more than „just“ showing people in their day to day life in public spaces, fully exposed and recognizable, most people simply don’t know this is a thing.
And there is clearly a lack of interest and known photographers to do this. We have a few and their more famous within the „scene“ itself rather than in public. I totally recommend anyone to check out the work of Thomas Leuthard. He is a big inspiration. Not just his photography but also his approach. He is a pioneer in contemporary Swiss street photography.
You decided to form an artist collective of street photographers, one that I, full disclaimer, eventually joined. Can you tell our readers more about that?
Our plan is to share and inspire each others. And the time was right to build a group. To build something where not just the street photographers in or from Switzerland could be listed, but a movement with a mission. And ours is to establish street photography as an accepted and hopefully someday appreciated form of art.
I realized more and more, even though I am not that experienced – that here in our country, we have much more people doing street, that I ever could have imagined, and a lot of them – like me – didn’t even know about the others. So we are trying to bring people together.
And of course I would love to take part in a group exhibition someday. So curators and galleries, if you read this, we are here and ready (smiles).
Let’s talk about gear for a change, something that I think about more than I write about. Something that is probably not important, but it is still important enough as we have to like the tools we use. What are your thoughts about photography gear? How is your relationship to your camera(s)?
To be honest, it is refreshing, to hear you ask about that. We never had that conversation. And that is because it is not relevant or important for any of us, I think. Or at least for you and me.
I never was interested in expensive equipment. I think a lot of street photographers or art photographers in general, are less interested in gear, than others. On the street other qualities are important. I would say, the most important thing is to know your camera blind. And it is probably better to keep it limited and small. But this is all personal preference and who knows how I feel about it someday.
When I decided to buy my first camera with the intent of doing street photography, it had to be a non-expensive, not to say cheap, camera – and it had to be small.
If money was no object, what would you do? Buy a Leica haha?
Who knows, could be that I would have too many options and lose focus because of it. Pun not intended. But really, I don’t know. I maybe would upgrade or at least test the newer releases of the camera I already own. Just to see how fast it is and if I still could handle it on the street.
But I admit, your idea with the Leica is not bad. Maybe when money really was no object I would try one of those.
Do you have a favorite focal length? Do you think that changed now that we are in a pandemic?
Surprisingly not really. But I wasn’t that much out shooting in 2020. I am very drawn to the intimate focal length of 50mm. Plus, my 50mm 1.8 lens is very useful at night. But I am open to all focal lengths. It is more the time of the day and the weather that influences my decision. But generally, I like the aesthetic of 50mm and 35mm. Also I am sure in the future this will change. Because I hope it does – it would mean evolution, even in something minor like focal length.
Your work in a family business that has been creating masks for the Basler carnival. Your family business has a very long tradition in doing this. The carnival has been canceled in 2020 and now is being canceled in 2021. How has this affected you, your photography and your life in general?
The cancellation of the Carnival of Basel is a huge problem for a lot of artists in Basel. Thousands of people are participating every year. It is an old tradition. We normally produce thousands of masks every year – all handmade and according to tradition. Now the clients of the Larven Atelier Charivari as well as the clients of every other atelier in Basel sit on masks ordered for the carnival of 2020, which was cancelled. So in anticipation for the Carnival of 2021 they didn’t need new ones. Same for next year, since 2021 is also cancelled.
But we are not alone with this problem. Every industry, maybe except pharma and online shops had to take severe hits. This is a problem in most countries and in most industries.
For me personally this is a lot of sorrow and frustration. But the new won time in 2020 and now in the first half of 2021 allows (and forced) me to concentrate more on my photography and the commercial side of it. I created three editions of prints I offer on my website and a since early December 2020, my first book is available on my website. Both elements are the results of people asking me, if I ever plan on doing something like that.
I still hope in 2022 everything will be more as usual, as our season in the Atelier Charivari is normally starting in fall. This means getting up at 4 am and working more than 150% in the Atelier. That is also a time when I need photography as a balance.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
None, that guy needs to learn it the hard way. No, maybe not to worry that much and just go for it. Whatever that is. But it’s difficult to try and think „what if“ because all the details matter and everything from the past, made you who you are now. For better or worse.
To be honest about that question, I probably need my future self to come and give advice just as much now, as I needed him in the past.
And what advice would you give to photographers just starting out in street photography?
I don’t think I am in a place to give advice. I haven’t been doing this for very long, and 99% of my photography is centered around one city so far. Not very experienced, to say the least.
But something that is universal and really important is that we never forget that street photography is an art form. And in art there are no rules. It is probably good to know some rules of photography, but after learning that, we should break them if necessary so we can really allow ourselves to do what we want.
Bastian, you have in my opinion an incredible eye for composition, color and perhaps should I say “mood” of a scene. How do you go about capturing your images on the streets? Do you believe in visualization of images or is your approach more spontaneous / intuitive? As you know, I am very interested in the creative process and always curious how other photographers approach their subjects and their photography.
Thank you for the compliment, I am glad you like my work. I very rarely go out with the intention to shoot something specific. Sometimes I make a mental note about a place I wanted to visit or revisit. But I almost never plan further than that. Sometimes I even forget the place as soon as I arrive in the city.
At the beginning, I tried to make plans. It almost never worked. Then I got frustrated, and later at home I got even more frustrated when I realized what I potentially have missed because I was too focused on one element or place. So, I am learning to be open and not to limit myself on one specific thing. But I think this is something everybody needs to figure out for themselves.
And there is obviously the chance, my approach (if you even can call it that) will change with time. What I can say however is, that I plan to work a scene for longer. I feel like I dont give a scene too much time to unfold and change itself.
But its always a thin line for me, between wanting to work a scene longer, and the question of what could possibly wait around the next corner. A constant dilemma.
Thanks so much for speaking with me, Bastian!
My pleasure, Daniel. Thanks for the opportunity.
Bastian Roman Peter’s website is here: https://www.bastianpeter.com/
Bastian’s prints are available here: https://www.bastianpeter.com/prints
Bastian’s first book is available here: https://www.bastianpeter.com/book
Bastian’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/bastianromanpeter/
Information about the swissstreetcollective, a collective of Swiss Street photographers that Bastian and I co-founded can be found here: https://swissstreetcollective.com